Loggerhead Sea Turtle | Oceana Canada

Sea Turtles & Reptiles

Loggerhead Sea Turtle

Caretta caretta

Also known as

Loggerheads

Distribution

Worldwide in tropical to temperate latitudes

Ecosystem/Habitat

Coastal to open ocean

Feeding Habits

Foraging predator

Conservation Status

Endangered

Taxonomy

Order Testudines (turtles, tortoise and terrapins); Family Cheloniidae (hard shelled sea turtles)

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Loggerhead sea turtles are named for their broad, strong heads and powerful jaws. They are generalist predators and use their muscular heads and jaws to crush the shells of conch, whelks, spiny lobster and other hard-shelled invertebrates. Loggerheads are a large hard-shelled sea turtles, rivalling the green sea turtle in size. In Canada, loggerhead sea turtles are typically be found in offshore waters in the Atlantic.

Compared to other sea turtles, loggerheads have a relatively large head and beak, making them easily distinguishable from other species. Loggerhead sea turtles have a hard shell, called a carapace, that is typically a reddish-brown colour tinged with olive green. Their elongated, heart-shaped carapace can grow to over 1.5 metres long, however most individuals are smaller than this. A loggerhead’s body is yellow to creamy white in colour and their flippers are reddish-brown, fading to yellow along the edges. Like other sea turtles, you can tell adult males and females apart by the length of their tails – males have much longer tails than females.

Loggerhead sea turtles are slow-growing, long lived animals that do not reach sexual maturity until they are around 30 years old. They spend the majority of their lives in the ocean with females only coming ashore to nest. Like other sea turtles, loggerheads return to the same beach where they hatched to nest, sometimes traveling hundreds or thousands of kilometres between their feeding and nesting grounds. The two largest remaining nesting areas, in terms of number of nesting females, for loggerhead sea turtles are on the southeast coast of the United States and the coast of Oman.

After mating at sea, females come to shore a few times during the nesting season, dig a hole in the sand and lay 100 to 130 eggs each time. After approximately two months, loggerhead hatchlings emerge from the nest all at once and make a mad dash to the sea. Like most crocodiles, alligators and turtles, the sex of loggerhead hatchlings is temperature dependent, with lower temperatures producing clutches of males and higher temperatures producing clutches of females. Juvenile loggerhead sea turtles may spend as long as seven to 12 years foraging in the open ocean. During this part of their lives, they stay close to floating seaweed and other floating marine debris, likely feeding on crustaceans and other invertebrates that are also attracted to these floating masses. Riding currents that circle entire ocean basins, it is possible that juvenile loggerheads cross the ocean several times during this period in the open ocean. Scientists are only beginning to learn where these turtles go and what they are doing during these so called “lost years”.

There are no active fisheries for loggerhead sea turtles in Canada, however they are caught incidentally as bycatch in various Canadian fisheries. The pelagic longline fleet for swordfish and tuna in Canadian waters plays a particularly large threat for loggerhead sea turtles. Loggerhead sea turtles and their eggs are harvested directly in some countries, although this practice is widely considered to be illegal.

Loggerhead sea turtles in Canada were assessed as Endangered by COSEWIC in 2010 and listed as Endangered under the Species At Risk Act (SARA) in 2017. These turtles are declining globally and are threatened by multiple different human activities. The greatest threat to loggerhead sea turtles is being caught as bycatch in various fisheries, but other threats exist in the form of marine plastic pollution, nesting habitat destruction, coastal development and light pollution, vessel strikes and illegal harvesting of eggs and nesting females.

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